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State abandons action against building official

Grant Tolbert had been accused of improperly enforcing building codes.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001

BROOKSVILLE -- State regulators moved Tuesday to dismiss their final complaint against Grant Tolbert, Hernando County's development director, a Department of Business and Professional Regulation spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The department filed a motion with a Division of Administrative Hearings judge Tuesday asking the judge to relinquish jurisdiction over a case in which Tolbert was accused by a former Timber Pines resident of failing to properly enforce building codes, spokeswoman Amy Hanburger said.

The judge entered an order closing the file the same day. A copy was not available.

Tolbert and the department also have reached an oral settlement in the case, in which the department agreed to ask the Building Code Administrators and Inspectors Board's Probable Cause Panel to close the case, Hanburger said. She expected the signed agreement would be received later this week.

Bruce Snow, Tolbert's lawyer, figured the dismissal would be final in 30 to 60 days. Tolbert said he would not celebrate until the deal is done.

"I will feel more comfortable once I see it in writing," he said. "I have been told as much before on cases, only to learn later that they were still floating around up there. It sounds positive, but I certainly would like to see it."

County Administrator Paul McIntosh was less reserved.

"I think that speaks well of Grant," McIntosh said. "I know he's well-respected in the development community. I'm glad these cases are cleared and we can all move forward."

During the past few years, Tolbert has faced several complaints about his professionalism.

He was accused of violating state building law in connection with repairs to the Hernando County Port Authority's former headquarters after the 1993 no-name storm. He faced five complaints in the handling of a building permit for Aripeka resident Cory Spaulding.

A 1994 Federal Emergency Management Administration audit criticized the Development Department for incorrectly granting permits to rebuild damaged homes in the flood zone. Months later, a grand jury called for Tolbert's resignation for giving favorable treatment to former County Commissioner John Richardson, who was allowed to convert a shack into a $70,000 house. The jurors later reversed their decision, saying they did not want to make Tolbert a scapegoat.

Tolbert also faced complaints that his department exaggerated repair values for the home of coastal resident Rick Zartman, which could have forced Zartman to move. A handful of other complaints that were not made public also were filed against Tolbert.

Tolbert denied wrongdoing, challenged any penalties and defended himself vigorously. He contended that former county commissioner Pat Novy instigated many of the complaints as a "conspiracy to attack me."

One by one, the cases have been tossed out.

"This one that's being dismissed is the last in a series of matters that were being addressed, all of which have been dismissed . . . as having no basis in law or fact," Snow said Tuesday. "For whatever reasons people want to complain, those complaints were without merit."

This final case involved former Timber Pines resident David Pearl, who stated four years ago that Tolbert inspected his already-built home and found nothing wrong, even though the gables could not withstand hurricane-force winds. The DBPR said Tolbert was negligent in the case and sent the matter to an administrative hearing judge.

Tolbert contended that he was not acting as a building inspector in the case, because the house had been completed and occupied for years. Rather, he said, he went to the house to see whether the house had been built to plans.

"We certainly are not guarantors," Tolbert said. "They did not understand the role of what a building department can do and, second, I don't think they wanted to."

The hearing would have been Tuesday if the agreement had not been reached.

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